Have you ever been in the supermarket where you witness a mother or father struggling with their kids and yelling at them? Did you get upset at the “meanness” of these parents? Did you feel that the kids weren’t being respected and cared for? Have you ever been shocked to find yourself being that parent?
Or have you found yourself annoyed at a driver weaving in and out of traffic because he was only thinking of himself and putting the rest of us at risk? Have you also found yourself occasionally being that driver?
Do you get angry when you see wars of religion—one trying to dominate the other with its “right” point of view? Do you find yourself being intolerant of intolerance?
The web of judgment is certainly tangled.
Is it possible to move beyond that?
Let me share a brief story that opened my eyes about this.
My wife and I take an annual trip to Sedona, Arizona for our anniversary. On this trip we like to take a hike up onto Cathedral Rock. It’s one of our favorite spots. The lush environment around the base of the rock is so peaceful and serene, while the heights of the perches at the top are simply majestic. Legend has it that this gigantic red rock formation has a powerful energy that comforts you and makes you feel like everything is O.K. It’s even said that, if you are open to it, you can receive messages from this rock.
Any judgments come up for you yet?
So, my wife and I are enjoying the two hour climb around the north face to east face and upward to the top. At several points, the rock gets pretty steep and some folks balk at this point. On my first time here, I had serious doubts and had to take a moment to relax and dig for some courage. To an experienced hiker or climber, it’s probably nothing too exciting or dangerous. Nevertheless, everyone seems quite accepting of varying levels of courage when you reach these points. The comfortable ones take a break and wait for the less confident ones. The fearless ones assure the scared ones that everything will be O.K.
When my wife and I reached the top, or as high as you can go without equipment, we took some pictures and then settled into a comfortable spot to rest up and enjoy the “energy” of the mountain. We lay down on the red rocks, my wife in the sun and me with my back against the cool red rock wall in the shade. I enjoyed the silence, punctuated only by the occasional “thunderous” helicopter flying by for a bird’s eye view. As an experiment, I asked the big rock if it had any message for me.
Shortly, there came a blustery, athletic presence storming up the hill, huffing and puffing. He took the top, had a brief look around, made some loud comments to his girlfriend, and then quickly began his descent. “In it for the workout,” came to my mind.
Next there came a middle-aged couple. When they reached the top it was clear that the woman was pretty scared. She stared at the way back down with trepidation. Almost immediately she began her descent, backing down on all fours, while being coached enthusiastically by her husband. “Missed the experience,” I thought.
Soon thereafter, came a barefooted girl with tattoos on her arms. She arrived at the top silently, like a cat, found a nice slab in the sun, and lay down with a smile on her face. “She’s really got it right,” I thought.
I followed suit, closed my eyes, and felt “soooo” relaxed against the soft, cool, red rock. I asked again for a message.
Before long these words came into my head: “Everyone’s experience is valid.”
I instantly felt how this released my judgments against those who “raced” up the mountain, were “too scared” to enjoy the experience at the top, or “too noisy” to listen and feel the silence. As I let this realization soak in, I understood it in a visceral way, in a way I hadn’t before.
Everyone’s experience is valid from their point of view. It makes sense to them given who they are, where they’ve come from, and where they are going. Who am I to judge that? I have no idea about any of those things for someone else.
In that moment, I felt free of judgment toward others and free to be myself. These two fit perfectly hand in hand. I’ve since discovered that, when I carry this phrase into life—“everyone’s experience is valid”—it frees me to appreciate the unique qualities that each of us bring to the table. The consciousness behind this phrase creates a fertile ground of understanding which can be used to resolve conflict and cooperate toward what we all truly desire—which is, at once, different and the same.